Free Her Women’s Justice Advocacy Conference Brings Formerly Incarcerated Women to the Table
Date:  08-12-2015

Women come together to unite against locking women up when there are clear alternatives
On August 4-5, 2015 the halls of Harvard Law School were filled with women from diverse backgrounds who all had the same agenda—eliminating the mass incarceration of women in the U.S. Beatrice Codianni, Reentry Central’s managing editor was a panelist at this momentous event and reported that the energy in the room on both days was almost tangible.

The conference started in the late afternoon of August 4, and throughout that day and the next, women who were professionals in the field of criminal justice reform, as well as women who were formerly incarcerated such as inter-nationaly known motivational speaker Kemba Smith and who were previously denied a seat at the table, spoke passionately about issues that consumed them.

Whether it was the call for national legislation to provide alternatives to incarceration for primary caregivers of dependent children, or pushing for a national standard of reproductive health care for women in prison that includes banning the byzantine practice of shackling a woman in labor, the participants of the conference were determined to see the current criminal justice system greatly reformed, if not dismantled.

The women also agreed that the definition of a violent crime should be scrutinized. Most current bills call for alternatives to incarceration for those who commit non-violent crimes. But, the women of the Free Her conference believed that much needs to be done to convince lawmakers that all violent crimes, or the people that committed them, are not the same, and that people who have served decades in prison are far less likely to commit crimes when they are released. The risk of recidivism decreases over time among elderly people who are locked up. The women agreed that it will take tough legislators to convince constituents that there shouldn’t be a stark division between people who commit non-violent crimes and people who are serving harsh sentence for a violent crime. There are different degrees of violence, and prisons were built to house those who commit the most egregious crimes. It was the consensus of the participants of the conference there shouldn’t be a blanket policy about who is worthy to be freed, limited to those who committed a non-violent crime.

Panelist Jean Trounstine also covered the conference for Truthout. Her article announces the birth of a powerful movement of women begun by Andrea James of Families for Justice as Healing and new leaders made up of formerly incarcerated women. Read Jean Trounstine’s article here.